Beauty standards and sustainability

This topic has been heavy on my mind lately: the intersection of beauty standards and sustainability.

If you’ve heard me speak about sustainability in the beauty industry, you know that I think our main problem is the sheer number of products being produced and sold.

Even if all companies used the most sustainable ingredients, in the most sustainable packaging, we’d still have a problem at our rate of consumption.

And what drives consumption? Well, marketing.

Don’t get me wrong - marketing is absolutely necessary for any business, including a sustainable one. But in the beauty industry, marketing has a history of capitalizing on insecurities in order to get us to buy products.

Whether it’s an ad that villanizes aging, or an influencer with perfectly smooth skin (potentially thanks to filters or expensive lighting), we’re suddenly hyper-aware of our skin and its perceived imperfections. We stare at ourselves longer in the mirror, wondering if this retinol serum or that face mask could alleviate our troubles, make us ‘better’. And we buy the products that do the best job of convincing us they will.


Woman rubbing cleanser into skin


Tally that up and you’ve got yourself a $100 billion a year industry balanced on keeping customers (mainly women) feeling less-than-thrilled with their appearance.

Not only is this a mental health issue, it quickly becomes an environmental issue. Most of these products are created with 20+ ingredients, each with its own global supply chain. Package that up in three layers of plastic (tube, unit carton, shrink wrap) and you can see where I’m going.


Plastic beauty packaging


I don’t have the answers. But I hope that by acknowledging the ways in which beauty standards and sustainability are intertwined, we can start to hope for something different. Maybe it’s realizing our inherent beauty as a part of nature on this planet. Maybe it’s caring about beauty LESS.

But next time you see an ad that makes you question how you stack up to some arbitrary beauty standard, take a step back and think about all the systems at play. You don’t need another skincare product. Maybe you want one, and that’s okay too. But you are so much more than your skincare routine, and your individual choice to buy fewer products can make a difference.

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